UPDATE: added a link to the site that estimates reading level with a little more detail about it.
The question came up again recently about what is our daughter's educational level. Since we are homeschooling and can tailor her education to fit her individual needs, the actual grade level is just a convenient label to us. Her peers are six. She is six. She attends a first grade sunday school class and thinks of herself as a first grader. But what educational level is she at? We don't feel the need to get her tested to determine her level so how do we know what to teach her?
Well, I guess we started with reading. She can read. So now it is a matter of what she likes to read. What stories grab her attention? What stories does she read to herself and what stories does she prefer to be read to her? Lately, I've been getting a lot of "step 2: intro to reading books" from our local library. They are simple chapter books with easy stories and vocabulary. The Pillowfight Fairy finds them easy and fun. Her little sister likes them too. The older reads them to the younger, then they spend the next week reenacting the stories in their free time. According to the information on these books the reading level is grades 1-3. That gives some clue, but as I said, the Fairy finds them easy. On the more advanced level she enjoys reading some of the Beatrix Potter stories. I found a site that gives the reading level for book titles that you enter. It is called Scholastic Teacher Book Wizard and you can find it here. When I looked up some of these stories on the site's "Bookalike" search engine it ranked the reading level and I found that the stories have a "interest level" of kindergarten through 2nd grade, but has a reading level of 3.5 grade level. "House at Pooh Corner" is listed as interest level of 3rd-5th grade and reading level of 5.1. Books that she prefers to have read to her are some like "Stuart Little," "Charlotte's Web," and "The Wind in the Willows." I don't think it is because they are too hard to read. I think it is because they are longer chapter books with longer plot lines. She can't finish them in one sitting, so she prefers to be read to so that her imagination can just take it all in. If she were reading it herself, she would still be dealing with the mechanics of reading and couldn't enjoy it as much. So we just try to get her good books, whether for her to read or for us to read to her. Our theory (taken from Charlotte Mason) is that if the child reads good literature and interesting books, the reading abilities follow along nicely.
We also started her out doing some spelling work to try to reinforce the phonics we had taught her. She loved it and is now in the second book of our chosen curriculum (Spelling Workout) which is labeled as for 2nd grade. I found that I couldn't advance her too fast in this curriculum, because it is aimed at a child who also has similar writing and thinking skills to the older age level. So I have extended the life of the curriculum by following the series of spelling lessons with vocabulary work taken from the dictionary in the back of the workbook.
Thanks to some of the spelling and vocabulary work we have done, she has made good progress with her writing skills. She doesn't like writing sentences, but she can do it well enough now that she will sometimes compose several sentences for fun during her free time, on whatever topic is of interest to her at the time. She still prefers to use simple words when writing, but she will take a chance on spelling a more complicated word if it is the one she wants to use. As far as her ability to write, I would rank her as about 2nd or 3rd grade. However, the content is more along the lines of a 1st grader's simpler view of the world. During the course of our current school year I have increased the amount of writing that I expect from her. She used to do one sentence per writing assignment at the beginning of the school year. Now she is doing three sentences per writing assignment. I have added an additional sentence every six weeks. It has worked out so well that I plan to continue it until she is writing six sentences per assignment by the end of our school year.
We are using Horizons math with her at the 1st grade level. We are satisfied with the steady and challenging work she is getting with it. She is picking it up at a reasonable pace. She also seems to prefer word problems, which I detested when I was her age. But it fits the way that she thinks.
As for her other subjects: history, science, religion, art and music. This is more fluid. None of it is actually graded. The history is designed to be used for any kid between 1st-4th grades. The Science is handled in a similar way. The teacher adjusts the lesson for what the child is capable of. The art is simple enough for any age level (child through adult). For religion, we are reading from a children's Bible that is at a 3rd grade reading level. The piano work is based on completion of lessons in order rather than "grades." So these areas of study either mirror her progress in reading and writing or they train for specific skills that are not quite so age related.
Just writing this post is reinforcing to me that the basics of reading, writing, and math really are the basics. I feel it is important to develop these abilities so that she will always be challenged a little more. If we can keep her at the level of steady improvement at a challenging level, I think she will be capable of the same level of work in the other subjects that are dependent on reading and writing and eventually also math. So, I guess my determining factor in our child's educational level is in reading, writing, and math. She is reading and writing much better than the typical six year old. She is doing math at a first grade level. She still thinks like a six year old however and has the emotional and activities needs of a six year old. I sort of see the information she is picking up in history, science, religion, art and music as frosting on the cake. She is learning new facts that she doesn't have a lot of context for yet. We are trying to provide some of that context for her. But I can see good things coming from following our current path. For instance, how many six year olds are confident about how to spell: Egypt, Pharaoh, Abraham, and Osiris. She is learning about lots of different kinds of animals. She is hearing the actual bible stories instead of paraphrases. She is getting training in art and music at a level that suits her abilities.
We still have a little over half a school year's work yet to go, so it will be a while before I can start planning for next year. But, I can see how each year lays a new layer to the foundation she is building on. I don't have any concerns about her not being ready to advance to new levels in reading or writing. She is right on track with her math. This year's work has shown our plans to be successful as far as material covered and educational level to follow. Looking ahead, I can still see the basic subjects (reading, writing, and math) to be the arbiters of how challenging the other subjects (history, science, religion, and fine arts) will be. And in the end those other subjects will become foundational later on when she starts hitting the logic stage, and she has to start wrestling with the facts that she has already been exposed to.
The more I look toward the future, the more I get excited about the shape it is taking. I almost feel sorry for my daughter that she doesn't have the perspective yet that allows her to look ahead at what the future holds for her. She has had such a good beginning. Yeah, she grumbles and gripes with the best of them. But she incorporates what she has learned into her play as if it is now a natural part of her. She doesn't realize how much she has changed in just the last few months. To me, as her parent, it is exciting and hopeful. I almost look forward to the day when we will be wrestling over arguments and grappling with great ideas.
In the meantime, I'm starting to teach the Adrenaline Junkie phonics. I get to learn how to juggle the educational needs of two kids in a more formal fashion. I get to figure out what my second daughter is ready for and whether we will start kindergarten next school year or in the following. (Her birthday is just a few days after the official cut off, so that will be it's own challenge.) After that, maybe I'll write another post about educational level. After all, I don't have a lot of experience dealing with more than one person. I'm sure I'll have figured it out a bit more after that.